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Nano-heroine makes big impact on science

Her name is Orla, she loves science, and in the month since she joined social networking website Bebo, she has accumulated 241 friends who want to talk about nanotechnology.

Oh, and she is entirely fictional.

By posting a profile of an educational computer game character on Bebo, the Northern Ireland creators of NanoQuest have created an online marketing phenomenon and persuaded nearly a million to play.

The Republic of Ireland government decided last year that it needed to excite teenagers about nanotechnology - the technology of very, very small things, which is expected to make billions for businesses.

But when it invested pound;165,000 in the NanoQuest game, it could never have imagined that its character would feature on the Bebo homepage or that hits on the game's site would rocket.

The free game encourages pupils to learn about nanotechnology through the characters of Orla and Jack, who are shrunk to nanosize by an evil scientist and have to complete challenges to return to human scale.

The Irish government's Discover Science and Engineering agency was talking last week to the Institute of Physics about promoting the game in British schools.

* www.nanoquest.ie

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